Grab a guitar

Jef Fretwell is a real-deal guitar player, but he had zero experience dealing guitars before two weeks ago.

The long-time local talent opened Fretwell Music with his wife, Dee, on Oct. 20 across the lot from Ashland Shopping Center, at 1652 Ashland St. on the south side of town.

"I was looking for a place to teach lessons and have little rehearsal space ... it was a pretty short step to having a consigned guitar store up front," said Jef, 38. "I like to think of it as a grassroots music headquarters."

The Fretwells have been immersed in the local music scene for a combined 20 years. Dee, who also thumps groovy, fresh bass lines on an upright bass guitar, has been managing and presenting various acts at venues around the valley, while Jef is a performer.

"I have this vision of music as a participatory activity rather than a product that you consume," Jef said. "I want to hold jams, I want to have a lot of affordable stuff on the walls, and I want to teach lessons to people." Like any good music shop, there are more than guitars in the store.

Handmade banjos, ukuleles and cajons, a unique box-shaped percussion instrument, are a few of the brand new instruments there, most of the rest are consigned and used, the Fretwells said.

Amplifiers are stuck in every corner for sale and cables, straps, strings and picks are among the accessories the Fretwells have available.

There is also a small studio in the back of the store where Jef teaches lessons, holds jams and does a little recording, he said.

Lessons cost $100 per month "'— that includes four, sometimes five, weekly practice sessions.

In an effort to increase the affordability of the lessons, the Fretwells plan to begin offering single-session practices and group sessions as well.

The shop also offers instrument repairs.

On Monday, 24-year-old guitar player Justin Spilman visited the music shop. His visits have become a near daily routine since laying eyes on a rich-sounding six-string acoustic Washburn perched on a stand near the counter.

"There is a lot of cool stuff in here, and it's all pretty affordable ... I'm going to try and pick this thing up," said Spilman, replacing the Washburn on its stand after strumming through a few songs.

Priced at $150, Spilman, who busks downtown occasionally, figures the guitar will be his soon enough. For now, playing it every other day will have to do, and that's no problem for the Fretwells.

"We want people to walk through the door and feel comfortable enough to grab a guitar off the wall and start playing ... they can see something they like and just play," said Dee, 37.

Fender, Schecter, Epiphone, Squire, Ovation, Taylor and Ibanez are a few of the big-name instruments that line the walls of Fretwell Music, and they are priced to sell.

"I have always bought affordable stuff and played the hell out of it," Jef said. "Anything that comes though this door is nowhere near as dirty or and beat up as my gear."

The Fretwells, who last summer organized the first annual West Coast Country Music Festival at the Greensprings Inn, hold two-hour Sunday jams in the store starting at noon, and everyone is welcome.

"The way I look at it, I am a guitar player with a store front ... We're here to stay."

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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